How to Fix SD Card Not Formatting Error and Recover Photos

sd card formatting error

You’ve shot hundreds of photos of an important trip or big event, but when you go to load those images onto your computer, an error message pops up:

“The memory card is not formatted. Do you want to format it now?”

How does a functioning memory card suddenly become unformatted? And even more importantly, how can you recover your data when the computer says that the memory card is not formatted?

The issue is, unfortunately, a common one.

When the memory card becomes corrupted, the computer and often even the camera the images were shot on won’t read the images anymore. While formatting an empty card is no big deal, often, the error message pops up when there are already images on the card.

But, the data can often be recovered — here’s why it happens, how to prevent it, and how to recover those images when you see that SD card error.

Memory card format errors often occur because the writing process was either interrupted or corrupted. The files that a computer or camera needs to read or write files properly are lost, making the card inaccessible without a reformat. The error often pops up after:

  • The card was removed from the camera while the camera was using it, or the camera’s battery died while writing a file. To be safe, always power your camera down before removing the card and avoid shooting with a low battery.
  • The card was used in multiple devices, like different cameras or using the card in a PC then a Mac. Memory cards will often need to be formatted when switching to a different camera, so don’t switch the card from one camera to the next without saving the data somewhere else first.
  • The SD card was damaged — sometimes, accidents just happen.
  • The card was originally formatted using a computer, not the camera. While you can format your card with your computer, it’s best to format using the camera to prevent corrupted files.
  • The wrong card brand was used. While most cameras will accept several different types of cards, it’s a good idea to check to see what cards your camera band recommends. For example, GoPro cameras have been known to be a bit prone to memory card errors if not using a good GoPro memory card.

While identifying what went wrong will help avoid the issue the next time around, that won’t help you with the current data on your card. While you can’t read the files on your computer, there may still be a way to recover the files — here are a few steps that hopefully will solve your problem.

Step 1: Double Check the Write Protection Switch

SD cards have a switch on the side that will prevent you from overwriting the data.

That’s a great feature to prevent accidentally clearing a memory card that you haven’t uploaded yet, but most don’t even realize the switch is there.

If the write protection switch on the side of the card was bumped, you could get that card error. Check and make sure that’s not what happened to you.

Step 2: Try Connecting with a USB Cord

If your computer can’t read the memory card but your camera can, put the card back in the camera and connect the camera directly to your computer using the USB cord. Look and see if the photos show up connected to your computer.

If your camera came bundled with software, try using that program to pull up those files instead of simply browsing for the files.

Also Read: How to Fix It When SD Card is Not Showing up on Mac

Step 3: Take Your SD Card into a Camera or Electronics Store

A camera or electronics store may have the tech to read that corrupted card. Some consumers have said they were able to recover all their data by taking the card into a local store.

While the possibility of recovering your data depends on several factors, it’s certainly worth a shot.

Step 4: Use a Photo Recovery Software

With the “not formatted” memory card error, in most cases, your images are still there, your computer just can’t read them.

A photo recovery software can serve as the go-between, finding and repairing the files on your memory card so that your computer can access them.

Recovery software works well for media cards that were pulled out of a camera or computer too soon, used in multiple devices, or formatted on a computer, but software can sometimes pull information from damaged cards too.

There are several different options for such recovery software, but we like Stellar Photo Recovery because it’s a comprehensive yet simple program.

The software is free to try out — you only need to purchase the full version if the program can actually recover files.

The program, available for both Windows and macOS, can scan a memory card with a format error and often fix the corruption to recover files — or even recover files off cards that have already been formatted.

Once the software downloads, you’ll select the SD card drive then click scan to see what images can be recovered. The process is pretty straightforward.

Final Words

Data loss is devastating no matter what the cause is, but recovering files after a memory card format error message are often possible.

Start by ensuring the write protection switch is off, then try using a USB cable connected to the camera to read the card. You can also take the card to a camera or electronics store.

If that doesn’t help you to access your files, you’ll need specialty photo recovery software that can read the corrupted card.

Fixed your SD card error? Let us know how you recovered your files in the comments below!

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    Thanks for the information.will go to feel squad for assistance.

  • Alan Lee

    Why is I can insert a new sd card in my camera and it works without being formatted?

  • Patricia J. Dombrowski

    Hello, I “fell” for this recommendation for Stellar Phoenix Photo Recovery Program and you need to make it MORE CLEAR that once the company finds your photos (or files) they HOLD YOU HOSTAGE with your files until you PURCHASE the program. So it just cost me $70 to recover 24 stinking photos for my job!!!

    Please please please and you are not the only one recommending this company, please make this clearer. At $70, my photos cost me $3/per photo and I made NO MONEY on this job that I needed the photos for!!!

  • Louis Annino

    Hello Hillary. We bought a Canon EOS Rebel T6 for my daughters wedding. The store put a new SD card in and told us it was formatted. We took several pictures but the computer said they’re not supported. When I put the SD card in a reader the photos appear to be there but again we can’t seem to see them either in the camera or on the computer. Is there anything we can do to save the pictures? We’d appreciate any advice or ideas you can think of.
    MAny Thanks
    Lou Annino

  • John R. McCommas

    I dropped the camera and the batteries popped out.

  • Geoffrey Odgers

    Thanks for the information. I used a Mac and Tablet to download from my SD card using a card reader.
    Your note about using only one computer makes sense to me.
    look forward to trying again.

  • Eric James Hall

    Good Afternoon Hillary
    My Kodak FZS 50 pixpro When switching on the screen comes up with Card error 1 it will not let me go in to settings. i have put new Ultra 32gb Sandisk in
    This camera is left in my car if a accident happens . at least i can take pictures

  • Larry A McGaffin

    I received a camera card and marked the package refused and send back the way it came and credit my account $5.99 for the returned card.